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My father is nearing the end of his life and we’ve been told to consider hospice care. Please explain what hospice is. Thank you for all of your help and guidance, Doctor Marion.

Betty in Alabama, 53

Hospice is a specialized program of palliative care for patients and/or residents who have less than six months to live. Be aware that this requirement can vary from state to state. Hospice attempts to give the elder the best possible quality of life during the dying process. It’s also designed to meet any special needs of the family and friends. The primary focus is to make the senior comfortable and pain-free through the use of pain management medications prescribed by a physician.

Hospice care can take place in a variety of environments, and many choose to host hospice care in their own homes, or a familiar hospital, assisted living space, or nursing facility. Hospice makes sure your elder is cared for, and it better prepares the family and everyone else for the coming death. It can be scheduled at specific times if that’s the request of the individual and/or the family. Hospice also provides social, spiritual, and psychological counseling for dying seniors and their family members.

Hospice takes much of the burden off of the family since it is staffed with professionals who are experts with end of life issues and the dying process. Volunteer visitors even show up if you would like, as will a hospice nurse. No matter where I’ve experienced a hospice program in the country, hospice professionals are always very kind and understanding.

I was once hired by a family when they learned their father had less than four months to live. They wanted to have care provided for him at home, so we hired a full time aide for the day shift. In the evening, the family members took turns providing care. I had suggested hospice care, but the family was sure they could handle this on their own, so I ordered some adapted equipment to make the task easier. Unfortunately, the physical, emotional, and psychological demands quickly began to wear them down, even though they were high-energy, big-hearted people. Finally, after much discussion, the family allowed hospice to enter the environment. When their father died, the family members were united in strength and peace at his bedside. Each family member was able to be with their father during his four month journey, and each had an opportunity to say goodbye.

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